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Cardinals Know Run Game Needs Help

Posted Oct 6, 2017

Notes: Team struggling with ground game; Brown drawing penalties; Boone game-day decision

Cardinals running back Chris Johnson breaks off a run last week against the 49ers. It was called back because of a penalty.

Bruce Arians evaluates his team’s troubled run game and thinks of himself first.

“For me, (we need to) run it more, probably,” Arians said. “We’re running it pretty well in the first quarter of games. Once we start having negative runs, I have a tendency to get away from it, and I have to fight that as a playcaller.”

It’s even understandable for the guys running the ball. Veteran back Chris Johnson was told of Arians’ comment, and Johnson nodded his head.

“Anytime the production that we’re getting out of it, as the playcaller or the coaches, it would be kind of hard to stick with it,” Johnson acknowledged. “But me being a running back, I know to have a good running game and to get the production you want, it needs to be something you stick with, running and running and running, and eventually those three, four yards will turn into 10.”

The Cardinals are last in the NFL in rushing. They have averaged only 2.7 yards a carry, far short of the four yards offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin craves and well below the 4.3 of 2016 and the 4.2 of 2015. Johnson has averaged only 2.6 yards a carry. Andre Ellington is at 4.3, but he’s only had 12 attempts and everyone else has had trouble.

The absence of David Johnson has not helped, but even he was at 2.1 yards a try in his 11 attempts before getting hurt. Much has to do with the decimated and struggling offensive line, an issue that has impacted both the running and passing game. Breakdowns in protection have led the decidedly non-mobile quarterback Carson Palmer to already have nine rushing attempts, with his 16 yards dragging down the average.

“Being where we are, rushing in the league, is unacceptable,” Goodwin said. “All the linemen, it’s the tight ends, it’s the running backs. We have to do a better job.”

Palmer is on pace to throw 732 passes this season, which would be an NFL record.

Goodwin said he doesn’t say much to Arians during a drive about running more, knowing the times when he calls plays in the preseason he doesn’t want to be bothered. But between series and at halftime, he will bring it up.

“As an O-line coach, by heart and by nature, I want more runs,” Goodwin said. “But we do what we do.”

“I think if the running game comes alive, the whole offense comes alive,” Goodwin added.

Palmer, meanwhile has piled up passing yards already, and is among the league leaders.

“It is hard to fight when you have all those guys out there that can catch,” Arians said. “But yeah, you’ve got to maintain balance.”

IMPACT OF SMOKE, EVEN WITHOUT A CATCH

The return of wide receiver John Brown proved the impact he could make on the offense last week against the 49ers. Still not 100 percent because of his lingering quad issues, Brown had three catches for 47 yards (on seven targets) and nearly had a spectacular game-winning touchdown that was ruled out of bounds – much to the chagrin of the Cardinals, who felt Brown was in.

Lost in the stats, though, were the three penalties Brown drew, 46 yards worth and all three generating automatic first downs.

“It’s kind of mixed feelings,” Brown said. “You can sit there and look at it like, ‘Man, if I had never had gotten held, I’d have this many yards.’ But you look at it on the good side, ‘OK, we drew up the play to get closer to where we want to get.’ I’ve been doing it for a long time. I’m used to it. It does get frustrating, but most DBs are taught to at least give up a penalty before you give up a touchdown.”

Even with his injuries, defenses still are aware of Brown’s abilities.

“I know I am still respected even though I’ve been through what I’ve been through,” Brown said.

BOONE WILL BE A GAME-DAY DECISION

Arians said a decision on guard Alex Boone (chest) playing won’t be made until Sunday, adding that newcomer Earl Watford will be active. If Boone does not play, Watford seems likely to get a start instead of rookie Will Holden.

Ruled out were tackle D.J. Humphries (knee) and defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche (calf).

Officially questionable for the Cardinals, besides Boone, are wide receiver John Brown (quad) and receiver J.J. Nelson (hamstring/tooth).

For the Eagles, defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (calf) and cornerback Ronald Darby (ankle) are out, a pair of significant absences. Questionable for the game are running back Wendell Smallwood (knee), safety Corey Graham (hamstring), defensive tackle Destiny Vaeao (wrist) and safety Jaylen Watkins (hamstring.)

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